Serco paid £1.1m to look after empty children’s prison

Article 39 has obtained information from the Ministry of Justice about the closure of Hassockfield secure training centre. We have discovered that Serco was paid £1.1m for a 50-day period when no children were held at the centre.

This was a prison in Durham for children aged 12 to 17, which was run for the government by Medomsley Training Services Ltd, a subsidiary of Serco Group Ltd.

The UK Government entered into a 15-year PFI contract with the company in November 1998, and Hassockfield opened on 17 September 1999. Decades before, the site had been used to incarcerate children and young people in Medomsley detention centre, which is now the subject of a massive police investigation into child abuse.

In August 2004, just five years after Hassockfield opened, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood hanged himself after being unlawfully restrained. He was struck on the nose by an officer using the ‘nose distraction’, a prison service technique that was later banned in children’s institutions (though other pain infliction restraints remain). Unlawful restraint was subsequently found to be widespread in all four of the secure training centre, including Hassockfield. The other three centres are run by G4S though one of them, Rainsbrook, is due to move across to MTCnovo, a partnership between MTC, which manages 25 correctional facilities in the United States, and the UK-based company Amey.

Article 39 made a freedom of information request to find out when the last remaining children were moved from Hassockfield, and the payments made to Serco and G4S in respect of the secure training centres.

We found out that Serco was paid £1.1m for 50 days, between 20 November and 9 January 2015, after the last children had been moved from Hassockfield. Contracts were extended in September 2014 and then again in November.

Serco was paid £6.4m in total in 2014/15 to run Hassockfield. Population figures provided by the Ministry of Justice show that in the last six months there was never any more than 38 children and young people held there.

Fees paid to G4S for running the other three secure training centres in 2014/15 amounted to £39.7m.

The Guardian has reported our research here.